At some point, the Coronavirus epidemic will end, and we will have time to contemplate how and why so many senior citizens in skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes contracted the disease and died. No doubt, the fact that people died is telling, in and of itself, and points to the failure to follow protocols, failure to isolate people with symptoms, and failure to provide a healthy living environment. Some cases may be borderline, meaning that it may be unclear exactly where the point(s) of negligence occurred. In most cases, however, the evidence of neglect, malpractice, or criminal behavior is clear-cut.
In Massachusetts, the Governor ordered an investigation into the cause of death for 76 veterans at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home last March. The people who died were US military veterans who had managed to survive Normandy’s beaches in World War II, napalm fires in Vietnam, and bombs in Korea, yet their own country failed to protect them against a deadly virus while in a health care facility that was required to have precautions and equipment in place. How could a nursing home have been so careless or cruel to allow such a thing to happen? Good question. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy charged the Former Superintendent and the home’s ousted medical director each with five counts of “wantonly or recklessly” causing or permitting bodily harm and five counts of neglect or mistreatment of an older or disabled person.
The five counts in the AG’s complaint refer to a specific moment when five asymptomatic veterans were placed a few feet away from four other vets who knowlingly had Covid-19. Mixing healthy patients with others in the home who were symptomatic or had already had the disease was a “disastrous decision,” the result of which was that one of the five died and two others became infected.
What was the defense?
The doctor and superintendent claimed there were staff shortages. But worse than that, an investigation showed that the home failed to plan and failed to execute longstanding infection control protocols. The staff also consolidated 40 residents from two locked dementia units into one; some had symptoms, and some did not, but in a few weeks, the death count piled up. That hardly constitutes a defense.
Given the number of nursing home deaths from the Coronavirus epidemic so far, it’s clear that the institutions that followed protocols kept residents safe, the ones that did not quickly self-identified through mortality data.
What can be done to reduce Covid Deaths in Nursing Homes?
If anything, nursing homes should have been one of the safest place on earth during the pandemic – IF ONLY they followed the procedures put in place decades ago to deal with and prevent the spread of infectious diseases in facilities. More oversight is needed in monitoring and preventing COVID deaths in nursing homes.
Not every nursing home has suffered infections and outbreaks. 1.3 million residents in 15,400 Medicare-certified nursing homes should have weathered the storm better than anyone. Yet, that’s not what happened. The virus devastated some facilities more than others because some operators and its administrators made reckless and unfortunate decisions of the kind they always did – they cut corners to cut costs, and people died.
Let’s hope that the Massachusetts AG’s lawsuit blazes a trail that others will follow. The Coronavirus epidemic did not have to kill so many in nursing homes, and it’s time that we acknowledge the truth. It’s time to hold the wrongdoers accountable for their actions.
This was an unavoidable tragedy; pure greed causes institutions to put profits over people and safety.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse and wrongful death cases. While it is most unfortunate that we are facing Covid Deaths in Nursing Homes we are here to help. For further information, please contact Wendy York at York Law Firm today.